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South African Bidvest Panalpina Logistics (BPL), part of the Bidvest group, employs around 1,400 people and is a leading provider of end-to-end supply chain solutions. This includes global air, ocean, warehousing, road transport and customs broking in most major industries. Over a century old, the company is at the cutting edge of one of the world’s most dynamic industries. And dynamic goes hand in hand with competitive.
BPL’s aging data infrastructure was struggling to keep up with the demands of a growing industry. Faced with an accelerating marketplace, the company felt the time was ripe to transition to the cloud. Also, as Bidvest’s chief IT innovators, Bidvest Panalpina Logistics was undertaking a dual role in piloting a transition approach for the rest of the group.
The need to update was clear to IT operations and infrastructure manager Morne Visser. “We started running into performance issues, and we actually had to make a decision at that time if we should invest in a new solution that we host on premise or if we should go with the cloud option.”
Agility was key for any new system BPL would install. That, and a track record for reliability and security. The process was to begin with bringing the data center up to date in answer to mounting customer demand. “Our industry has various peak periods,” Morne says. “We have financial year ends and peak periods where customers need to make use of our workloads.” At times like this, BPL struggled to keep up due to lack of resources.
As well as modernizing the data infrastructure, there was a pressing need to remove key dependencies around disaster recovery (DR) and security. “Our DR solution was not working so well,” Morne notes. “We had a couple of failures and replication was cumbersome.” So cumbersome in fact that recovery and DR dry runs were taking up to seven days to complete under the supervision of six people.
Unreliable power supply and bandwidth costs are also issues in South Africa, both of which can leave the company at the mercy of unscheduled outages. To get around this, BPL wanted to roll out a full-scale migration. That meant everything from exchange and customer data, to shipment and customs information—all running through the cloud.
Microsoft Azure was the clear choice for BPL, with its combination of easy migration tools and complete recovery suite. BPL already had a long-standing 15-year business relationship with Microsoft partners BUI, who led the implementation. Morne says it was a simple decision for BPL. “We understood how they worked and they understood our industry and organization.”
Using Azure as its jump off point, the way was clear for BPL to make the move from a less responsive, monolithic CAPEX model to a more agile OPEX format with flexible costing. “Looking at all the benefits, the cost and the current agreement, we made an informed decision to move our production workload, DR and offsite replication to MS Azure,” says Morne.
With the decision made, migration was surprisingly straightforward. The first step was to modernize the data center infrastructure and rebuild the backup, retention and DR system without upsetting the everyday workflow.
Delays are inconvenient in any industry. In logistics, they can be disastrous, with port overstay fines mounting, expensive freight aircraft redirection and more. Creating a better workflow had huge potential for savings.
Through a combination of the existing virtualization environment, hybrid cloud services in Azure, and supporting software like StorSimple, Azure Backup and Azure Active Site recovery, the process came off without a hitch. And it only required one member of the IT team to oversee it.
The second phase, which the team called “lift and shift,” was a direct move of the on-site virtual environments using Azure Site Recovery. They used Operations Management Suite to monitor the process from a governance and security perspective.
One of the most immediate benefits of the migration has been to BPL’s five-strong IT team. The move to the cloud has significantly streamlined their workload, allowing them to upskill and apply their talents in other ways.
Morne has noticed a huge uplift in efficiency as well. “Our admin has reduced quite a lot versus looking after the infrastructure and everything on premise. It’s a huge benefit for us.” BPL is already projecting a saving of 35 million rand (US$2.7 million) over the next five years as a result of the migration.
Users across the company also see value from an updated exchange system and fresh access to Office 365. While the system remains unchanged on the front end, users are already enjoying boosted capacity and speed on the backend. This has put an end to delays and contributed to improved efficiency.
“People were afraid to take that first step,” says Morne. “It was an unknown. As we progressed with the project, and adopted it along with Office 365, SharePoint and the other collaboration tools, the company culture actually changed. Now everyone asks if projects are going to be cloud based.”
Looking to the future, BPL wants to complete the rollout to a fully cloud-based approach. Morne notes that “as we started implementing services in Azure, we realized there were more services we could make use of.” This has led to a commitment to shift other services like SQL and data warehousing to the cloud as well.
According to Morne, “the ongoing support and innovation from Microsoft” will be playing a large part in BPL’s plans for future technology decisions.
The company culture actually changed. Now everyone asks if projects are going to be cloud based.Morne Visser: IT Operations and Infrastructure Manager